Tales From The Backlog: Early Impressions of The Old Republic

I’ve just bought my commando a personal speeder.  Think of it like a Segway with engine wash and questionable stability.  My character arches off the back end like he’s wrangling a pair of water skis, as though his counterbalance is the only thing preventing the noseplate from plowing into the ground.  It also has a nasty propensity for exploding at the most inopportune times, like when I fail to give a cluster of Imperial Lookouts a wide enough berth.

It’s all a new experience for me because this speeder is the first MMO “mount” I’ve ever bought.  Other games overstayed their welcome before I got far enough to be eligible, usually because the percentage of game time spent traveling to wherever I needed to be kept going up.  In terms of prep time, galumphing to the far end of the Barren Wastes to begin my quest is about as entertaining as waiting for a PS3 install to complete.  Less so, actually – at least while I’m waiting for Heavy Rain to unspool onto my hard drive, I have an origami project to keep me occupied.

The Old Republic respects my time as a player.  Between the Fast Travel shuttle beacon I can use to teleport to specific quest hubs, cheap taxi services, and demarcated mission zones packed with objectives and rewards, the place I want to is never more than two minutes away.  An hour is often enough playtime to knock off a half dozen quests: a snappy pace even compared to a lot of single player RPGs.

Most of my time is spent treating it like a solitary game, too.  I see other players, occasionally toss my class buff on them in the hopes they might return the favor, and buy their crafted goods off the Galactic Trade market, but for all intents and purposes I mentally file them as local citizens going about their business in the background of my adventure.

And it’s amazing how much the Mass Effect-style cinematic treatment makes that possible.  My character has a voice, and expressions, and a personality I get to shape with nearly every conversation in the game.   Every quest has a dialogue wheel and every response carries a potential consequence with my NPC companions.  Many missions have branching outcomes, like choosing whether to accept a reward or deciding the fate of an enemy offering valuable information in exchange for his life.  I even get closure as characters will e-mail my commando afterwards about how he affected their lives.  Even as I can see other people doing these quests around me, Bioware has peppered in enough decision points that my story feels utterly unique.

The missions themselves run the usual RPG gamut of kill quotas, collection quests, boss fights, and so on.  My first reaction was to decry it as bog-standard MMO filler, but then I started to wonder: are these templates at all different from my beloved Knights of the Old Republic?  I’ll freely admit that my brightest memories in that game are of the story and the characters, but aside from a lengthy courtroom drama-style investigation, every questline I can recall followed the same basic outlines found here.  Even the planet-by-planet story arcs are reminiscent of Bioware’s single-player designs.

I doubt I’ll ever have anything worthwhile to say about this game’s long term group dynamics or raid opportunities, but from a purely single-player standpoint, I’d say The Old Republic has been a rousing success so far.  It’s exactly what I was hoping to find: a story-based online game where I’m free to cooperate with other players when it’s convenient, but I never feel disadvantaged for wanting to go it alone.  I could stop here, right now, and feel my $60 was well spent on the fun I’ve already had.

That’s a good feeling to have when, really, I’m barely one-quarter through a single class story.  The idea that there would be seven others to try – yeah, this game makes a darn good impression so far.


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